When we think of humans adapting to an environment or ecosystem, we seem to think it’s something restricted to the realm of science fiction or comics. The only time we consider the possibility of adaptation is through artificial means. The truth is, however, naturally occurring adaptation does exist! For our first dive into reality being stranger than fiction, we’ll be talking about the Bajao of Southeast Asia.
Known as the Sea Nomads, the Bajao live practically their entire lives at sea, on boats they use to travel as they pursue their lifestyle as fishermen and divers. While this in itself isn’t unusual, the biology of the Bajao is; they can hold their breath longer than most people and their eyes aren’t affected by salt water to the degree regular people are.
What’s interesting is that these traits aren’t something that’s only present in adult nomads who’ve only been diving for most of their lives; it’s a trait that also appears in the children as well. It has been argued that evolution and adaptation no longer happen regularly and that what we mistake for adaptation is just natural selection, with stronger traits surviving.
The issue with the Bajao, however, is that the traits that have been observed aren’t something that occurs naturally in humans, and given that humans care for their young and ensure their survival, the idea of natural selection doesn’t seem relevant in this case.
Another interesting fact is that the Bajao have larger spleens than average; it’s worth noting that larger spleens are a trait that’s present aquatic and semi-aquatic creatures. This creates an observable and quantifiable link between humans and aquatic creatures; two very distinctly different species.
Are the Bajao unique, or are they just the first observed and studied case of natural adaptation? Do you think there are other adaptations that have already been occurring around the world, and we just haven’t found them yet? What adaptations do you think exist in the world? Let us know!